A Shooting Star Across the Sky

We live near a large park and equally near to a community centre. Most of the people I pass on the street in a day are runners. Tight pants, tank tops, music players, ponytails, puffed out cheeks like fish: running. Sometimes I see the same person three times in a block because she’s running laps and I’m ambling.

In Trombone’s first year, when I was most often pushing him around the neighbourhood in his stroller, I physically tilted after the runners. My chin followed them wistfully. I smiled at them and coaxed them on silently and thought soon I will run again.

I wasn’t always a runner. I was never an exerciser, a worker-out-er, a person who gave a flying fig in a rolled donut about cardio or upper body or heart rates. I was a drinker, a smoker, a midnight toker (perhaps not all of those at once) and I had the metabolism of a farmer’s daughter to help me stay pretty much the same size no matter what I did or did not do.

Add to that recklessness a first desk job and a commute by car, not to mention sudden disposable income (all the CHEESE!) and there I was, late 20-something and having put on 20 lbs. Or something. I didn’t actually ever weigh myself. But one day it was time for new pants and then it was time for new pants again and then suddenly, holy crap, new pants? Already?

I arrived, in my late ’20s, at a healthier weight than the one at which I had spent my early ’20s and teens. Definitely. A steady diet of coffee, beer and instant noodles will keep you in size whatever pants but that wasn’t my goal. My goal was to drink as much beer and coffee as possible in a 7 year period. Goal = achieved! Still, though, having “settled down,” I wasn’t any healthier for being heavier, if you know what I mean.

There was no way I was dieting. I didn’t know how. So I started exercising. Swimming, every day, on my way to work. It was awesome. I didn’t actually know how to swim because I had dropped out of swimming class as a kid, not wanting to put my head in the water. I was very good at dog paddle but dog paddle is not very good at getting you from one end of the pool to the other in a timely (ie: not passed by all the very old people also in the pool at 6 am) fashion. Luckily, my job at the time positioned my desk very close to a former lifeguard turned software salesman (hey, it happens) and he, in his slow moments when he was not Always Being Closing, gave me acted-out-in-the-office swimming lessons, which I interpreted each following morning in the pool until finally, weeks later, I was putting my head in the water, breathing properly and doing a passable breast stroke for 45 minutes a day. Thanks, Phil the sales guy!

I had a Nike suit, a swim cap, goggles. I was hardcore. But I got a bit bored. I wanted something out of the water, something I didn’t have to pay money to do, something that wouldn’t make my hair turn funny colours.

Around the same time, I got laid off from the early morning job and so going swimming at 6 am was no longer a reasonable thing to do. I started running, following a learn-to-run-in-several-easy-steps program. Then I got a job and stopped running. Then the job offered me a running club so I started again, eventually working my way up to a 30 minute non-stop run and then, after a year’s rest I ran three or four times before getting pregnant with Trombone. I had just bought a new pair of running shoes. I think I wore them once.

Over time I had really grown to love running. Learning to pace myself and set reasonable – and meetable – goals went a long way toward that love. It worked so well I even applied the running principles to writing fiction. So last year when I looked at the people in the park so longingly, it was with the certainty that I would get back to being a runner. I would take – and welcome – that time to myself again. Somehow I would work it into my busy schedule. But then, I went back to work, the killer of best intentions, and then boom boom diddim: pregnant again.

These days, I don’t quite trust myself not to toss the buggy, babies and all, into the bushes and take off full tilt like an unleashed dog. I feel so strong, physically, that I have to remind myself when walking around our neighbourhood and eyeing the runners that I am only 2.5 weeks post-partum. Exercise is not recommended until at least 6 weeks, no matter how totally healed I feel. (not to mention that I am chronically sleep deprived to the point of delusion and prone to forgetting to eat.)

I don’t want to run to lose weight or to tone muscles. I want to use the muscles. I know you can exercise when pregnant but I just couldn’t do it and so all but the essential muscles in my body feel as though it’s been years since they flexed. And it’s the rush I miss, the feeling of pushing past the last milestone and going another few feet, the ache in my lungs where the air is being circulated, the ritual of warmup, run, cooldown. The part after the run where, when walking home, I would always thank each of my body parts for helping me achieve that day’s goal. The solitude. Sweet heavens, the solitude, of course. The thinking. The pure, quiet moments with only my own breath and my own brain. The freedom, too, yes. No one on me, near me, needing me.

It will be a while yet. I hope my shoes still fit.

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